What We’re Streaming: June 2020
Apparently, it’s June. I’m as shocked as you are; thanks to viruses, shutdowns, and widespread looting, I haven’t dared to go outside since Easter. While I’m sure someday movie theaters will reopen and once again the Agony Booth will be bringing you monthly box office predictions, for now, here’s another installment of What We’re Streaming, a roundup of the movies and TV shows we’ve been watching while stuck at home. Here to share what they’ve been streaming are Thomas Stockel, Julie Kushner, Jordon Davis, Nathan Kerner, and me, Dr. Winston O’Boogie.
The Great (Hulu)
Julie: Born to a little-known royal German family of modest means, Catherine the Great eventually went on to become one of Russia’s longest-ruling and most-heralded empresses. Through her leadership, Russia was brought into the modern age (or at least what was considered modern in the mid-1700s). Its economy was revitalized. Its female population was made literate. Its arts and culture flourished. And its place as a great military power of the world was finally cemented. But first, Catherine had to plan a coup d’etat, and orchestrate the overthrow of her doofus husband Peter III.
When a friend of mine first recommended Hulu’s The Great to me, I was admittedly skeptical. “The world is basically ending, and I’ve been in quarantine for three months. I don’t want to DO HOMEWORK NOW,” I whined. But man, if this series wasn’t the most fun that I’ve had sitting on my couch in quite some time. Yes, all the trappings of a prestige period piece show are on full display here: The fabulously ornate castle sets, the wide landscapes, the gorgeously complex and super-uncomfortable looking costumes, and the very poor attempts by the cast at even the slightest hint of a Russian accent. But The Great is also hilariously funny and delightfully raunchy. There are pet bears randomly wandering around the castle premises. One of the royals is unsuccessfully attempting to train butterflies to be her pets. The introduction of a printing press to the castle makes a nasty rumor about Catherine’s proclivities toward sex with horses become one of the first memes in history. And there’s much talk about the king’s ability to please his lovers orally… mostly from the king himself.
The acting is on point too. Elle Fanning is the perfect mixture of cunning, Machiavellian enterprise, dry wit, and at times naïve vulnerability as the titular character. And she’s well matched by Nicholas Hoult’s equal parts charming, idiotic, and evilly awful King Peter, who will probably go down as one of my all-time favorite TV villains. To put it in recognizable terms, think of The Great as an unofficial dark comedy prequel to Game of Thrones, starring a younger and much less jaded Cersei, opposite a surprisingly hot and well-muscled pre-boar mauled Robert Baratheon, but without all those pesky incest babies in the castle to muck things up. Huzzah!
The Expanse (Amazon Prime)
Jordon: Two months ago, my close frenemy and roommate of 27 years, Thomas Stockel, recommended this show. I took his advice and damn… just damn. It’s the most realistic sci-fi I’ve ever seen. One note: this thing demands careful attention. I went to the bathroom once and when I came back two minutes later, I had no idea what anybody was talking about. I didn’t even know what planet they were on. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Remember the Cant!
Winston: The Kims are a dead-broke family living in a tiny, dingy basement apartment in Seoul. The son of the family lucks into a job teaching English to the daughter of the wealthy Park family, who live in an opulently designed mansion. He gets his sister a gig tutoring art to the Parks’ son by pretending she’s a well-regarded expert in “art therapy”, a field she knows nothing about. They play on the Parks’ fears and insecurities and soon the entire Kim family has conned their way into filling every domestic role in the mansion, while callously pushing out the employees who previously occupied those roles. And then an absurd and hilarious twist happens in the third act where they pay dearly for their heartless schemes.
Parasite of course became the first foreign language film ever to win Best Picture, but was it really the best picture of the year? Does it deserve this vaulted place in history? The film certainly has its flaws; at times, the Park family comes off way too credulous and gullible, but hey, it’s satire. And while it seems like a foregone conclusion that the story is going to turn violent, when the final brutal confrontation occurs, it’s a bit too choreographed to be cathartic. Still, Parasite is the darkly comedic horror film about class warfare that Jordan Peele’s Us should have been. While 1917, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and The Irishman were all strong contenders for the award, at the very least, 2020 is the first year in a long, long time that no one’s shaking their head and asking what the hell the Academy was thinking.
Rick and Morty (Cartoon Network)
Jordon: Hey, Rick and Morty came back with a bunch of new episodes. They’re bananas. Catch up on all the eps. Squanch them, you squanch.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix)
Thomas: For those not in the know, Avatar was a fantasy series taking place in a world comprised of four nations: Fire, Earth, Air, Water. Three of them are at war with the Fire Nation, which is bent on conquering all. The only hope they have to stop the Fire Nation is the Avatar, a being who can control all four elements. Only, the Avatar is a boy, and before he can complete his quest to master all the elements, there are those bent on capturing him… or worse.
“Perfection” is an overused word, but there’s no better one to describe this series. The voice acting is tremendous, the animation is beautiful, and the story is well-crafted. Our protagonists Mya, Sokka, and Aang are written well as kids living in a time of war, who when called upon head out on a quest to help Aang achieve his potential. They feel like real characters, who are flawed and often frightened and feeling overwhelmed, but at the same time rise to the challenge. As the series progresses, we’re introduced to a host of fantastic characters, antagonists and protagonists both. I feel the Earthbender Toph was a particular fan favorite (certainly short of Sokka, she was mine), but the character everyone adored was Uncle Iero, voiced originally by the late, great Makko as Prince Zuko’s guardian and mentor. Prince Zuko too is a tremendous character, and a complex figure going through teen angst, eager to please an unloving father but at the same time trying to do what’s right. I know I’m leaving out a great deal here but I don’t want to spoil a single minute for you. If you want an entertaining fantasy story of the highest quality, told in three thrilling season-long chapters, please do yourself a favor and watch Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC)
Jordon: This show has nothing to do with science fiction. Also, it’s over. However, it is my new favorite thing of all things. An introverted coder named Zoey (Jane Levy of Monster Trucks) gains the ability to hear people’s inner emotions as full-on musical numbers. Skylar Astin from Pitch Perfect, Alex Newell from Glee, and a whole bunch of other people sing. It’s amazeballs. Did you skip this because you don’t like musicals? Well, let me ask you this: are you afraid of being so happy your heart will explode? Lauren Graham sings Ke$ha. Don’t let your comic book guy snobbery rob you of a second of this. I’ve seen every episode at least eight times. It’s driving my frenemy and roommate of 27 years, Thomas Stockel, crazy. Watch it.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Disney+)
Nathan: While Disney+ loves to play up their Star Wars content, having the app has reminded me that Disney actually has a pretty extensive legacy of films they actually have made, you know, instead of the films they just bought. So I’ve been rewatching a lot of those movies, with my favorite being 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The movie was a favorite of mine when I was a kid, and let me tell you, this one holds up. We follow Professor Aronnax (character actor Paul Lukas), his apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre), and harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas, at his most macho and shirtless) as they join a naval expedition in search of a monster sinking ships in the south seas. Getting tossed overboard, they find out it’s no monster at all, but a submarine called the Nautilus captained by rogue scientist Captain Nemo.
The movie has its problems, including a voiceover that was probably added in post, which doesn’t help the movie at all. And it’s a little episodic at times. But the episodic nature can be a benefit, as the movie is all about the set pieces: We get a couple of underwater diving scenes, including one with a shark attack; an encounter with cannibals; and the Nautilus crew fighting a giant squid (perhaps the best practical effects sequence in 1950s American cinema).
The film’s production design, including the sets of the Nautilus’s interior, are also great. The film may come across as quaint to some, but they really don’t make movies like this anymore. (No giant lasers being shot from the sky here.) But it’s a character driven sci-fi romp that kids will probably enjoy, with a lot of heavier themes for the adults. It’s also got a score that I haven’t heard since I last watched it (about 25 years ago), and now I can’t get it out of my head and I hum it to myself when I’m cleaning the kitchen.
The Shape of Water (Hulu)
Winston: This film’s Best Picture win is as confounding as Parasite‘s is deserving. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute cleaning lady at a secret government lab where they’ve just captured “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones), a bipedal fish guy who looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s long-lost cousin. The uniformly white and uptight government scientists (led by Michael Shannon) intend to dissect the creature to find out what makes it tick and get a leg up on the Soviets, but Elisa falls in love with Amphibian Man, and together with her coworker (Octavia Spencer) and her gay neighbor (Richard Jenkins), she plots to set the creature free, but not until after she takes him home to fuck his fish brains out.
The Shape of Water feels like a fairy tale, but it’s clearly one for adults, which should be obvious as the opening credits play over Elisa masturbating in the tub while waiting for her eggs to cook. It’s clear what director Guillermo del Toro was up to here in presenting a mature, updated, revisionist take on creature features of the 1950s, not only touching on the details of inter-species sex glossed over in old B-movies, but also making it clear how difficult it was to be black, gay, or disabled back then. Unfortunately, the absurdities pile up to the point that despite the stellar performances and lush visuals, this movie simply cannot be taken seriously. Mere minutes after an honest-to-god musical sequence where Elisa dances and sings with Amphibian Man to a big band number, we’re treated to a gory scene where the creature bites the head off her neighbor’s cat and it’s treated like no big deal. Del Toro is a genuinely nice and talented guy who was due for a win, but Shape of Water will forever be known as the Academy Award winning film about a woman fucking a fish monster.
Criminal Minds (Every streaming and broadcast network at all times)
Jordon: Previously, I suggested letting Criminal Minds just wash over your bloated couch-corpse. I have now developed a drinking game around it: take a drink every time 1) Reid spouts off some unknowable fact on the plane, like turn-by-turn directions in LA, 2) Jareau mentions her dead sister, 3) Prentiss is wearing bangs, 4) the newest member of the team gets to read that quote at the end of the episode, and 5) they show a flashback that should have had Mandy Patinkin but instead either doesn’t or has Ben Savage from Boy Meets World. Finally, party like it’s New Year’s Eve on Bourbon Street every time Hotchner beats C. Thomas Howell to death with his bare hands. Follow these rules starting at 8:00 tonight and you’ll be dead by about 10:15.
And that’s what we’ve been binge-watching this month. As of now, some big theatrical releases are still scheduled for July, so will this be the final installment of What We’re Streaming? Tune in next month to find out.